New rules create fresh markets for corporate trainers

One result of the guidelines that require federal project managers to have certification is that IT workers will no doubt find themselves the targets of direct marketing campaigns by specialized schools and corporate training businesses.

With the federal government now following the corporate world'where certified IT project managers have been the norm'corporate trainers see a vibrant new market they want to tap into, said Debbie Bigelow, president of PM College, the corporate training division of project management consultant PM Solutions Inc. of Arlington, Va.

Corporations have outsourced training to PM Solutions, ESI International and similar companies for years to train project managers and to prepare them for certification tests.

Now that federal guidelines require personnel to earn certification to be IT project managers, several agencies will soon turn to the same training companies used by Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp. and other contractors.

That training means more than just adding letters behind your name, said Lou Pereira, director of marketing for service process optimization for Lawson Software Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., a company that makes software to assist project managers.

Compelling project managers to get certification provides a benchmark to measure their capability to oversee an IT project, from determining the budget to finishing every detail of implementation, Pereira said.

'In the public sector it's more of problem,' he said. 'You have to deal with the people you have, and you have to get them certified.

'Because they're always there in the public sector, IT managers have the stigma of being the guys that just keep the lights on,' Pereira said.

Earning certification can change that, he said. Passing the required tests'whether it's the Project Management Institute's PMP certification or Six Sigma's martial-art style 'belt system' or Carnegie Mellon's CMM certification'increases an IT professional's status in the corporate world, he said.

'There is a trend that there is a need for a more disciplined approach,' Pereira said. 'In Europe they've taken project management as a more disciplined approach. That's not been the style here. In the United States the focus has been on 'Do you want me to pay attention to the little stuff, or do you want the project done on time?'

'Project management is a very disciplined, administrative process. In the U.S. they've been more interested in the results. In Europe they are more linear, more academic. I'm always surprised at how polarized the two camps are.'

Pereira foresees a shift coming to the United States. 'A pattern is emerging that there is a responsibility to not shirk away those administrative, no-value-added processes,' he said.

The reason for the increased interest in project management training and certification?

Pereira said he believes the rationale is simply that the more disciplined approach has been credited with getting projects in without budget overruns or as many quality-control problems.

'With the economy and also the political environment, you have a situation where you spend your money on the right things, you don't have a gravy train of going back for more money to finish the project,' he said.

'In the late '90s, profitability wasn't important,' Pereira said. 'It was perfectly fine to not be profitable, and you could even go public without being profitable. Today profitability is very important. You've got to get things done on time and on budget.'

The corporate training programs for IT project managers are the equivalent of postgraduate studies in teaching different methods of keeping project management oversight, Pereira said.

'They are expensive, and they do take some time to finish,' he said. 'But the assertion is when you have that title to the right of your name, that you have the skills to see the project through.'

Bigelow, a former executive director of the not-for-profit Project Management Institute near Philadelphia, said the new thrust on certification for IT project managers will be a boon to companies like hers, both from professionals within agencies and also from contractors outsourced by the government.

'What was happening in the past was people good at technical projects were put into project management,' she said. 'They didn't necessarily have the people skills or the analytical skills to make the project come into being.'

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